Turkey’s Hidden Top 10: Mediterranean Xanthos & Letoon

Last week, I introduced my new nostalgia column, “Turkey’s Hidden Top 10”, where I go into some of the hidden gems in the beautiful country that is Turkey. You can check out the 1st iteration here. The previous issue talked about another old neighborhood in Istanbul that houses some of its famous history and cultural diversity.

Turkish Riviera

In honor of summer, this blog is about the Turkish Riviera. Turkey has a long beautiful coastline with some of the most beautiful and active spots on the Mediterranean. If you’re looking for a great way to map out your trip here, check out this post.

Alanya from the Castle | Photo by By Ozgurmulazimoglu

If you’re looking to get a combination of the adventure and relaxation this region supplies, look no further than three little towns: Xanthos, Letoon, and Patara.

Xanthos

This UNESCO Heritage site is a waymark on the Lycian Way, which is the Appalachian Trail of Turkey; but older, hotter, shorter, and with a nicer finish. Xanthos is famous because it was the capital of the Lycian Federation until the invasion of the Persians in the 4th Century BC. What remains are the Lycian Acropolis (the Roman one as well) and many ornate Lycian sarcophagi, the most famous being the Harpy Monument.

Harpy Monument and other Tombs in Xanthos | Photo by Carole Raddato

It’s a surprise there’s this much left because after the Lycians found out the Persians were coming, they murdered all the women and then committed mass suicide, with only about 80 families opting out.

Letoon

Another UNESCO site, Letoon has a history that is closely tied with Xanthos. It’s the next stop on the Lycian Way after Xanthos and is an important religious site. You can find Hellenistic Temples and inscriptions written in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. Some even detail a visit from Alexander the Great.

Letoon Temple Complex | Photo by Axb at the German language Wikipedia

The greatest lore surrounds Mithridates VI of Pontus. Wanting to clear a grove of trees on his way to sacking the city of Patara, he has a nightmare about the importance of the trees and the repercussions if he were to cut them down. He relented and they won the battle. The importance of the grove lasted so strongly and deeply to those that lived there that its inhabitants blessed the site every generation for over 1000 years and was even christened in the 700s.

Patara

Patara Beach | By William Neuheisel

Patara was the primary port of Lycia, you can see why with their 11 miles (18km) of continuous beach. A dip in the pristine water is definitely called for if you’ve just finished the Lycian Way. However, the city has its own historical significance. It has many ruins – like a 40 ft. tall lighthouse from the 1st century AD – but it’s most famous as the home of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. This makes Patara a significant pilgrimage site, but I’d prefer just going to the beach.

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